It was an interesting trip, but things worked out rather oddly. The plan was to drive to Zabeed, look around, spend the night and then go to Houdada early next morning to see the fish souk.
Michael was really interested in the fish souk, but we needed a closer base sine Houdada is about 5 hours away and you need to be there early to see all the action. I got almost no sleep the night before we left so I was a wee bit groggy on the way out. So we piled into a Land cruiser and headed out. About an hour into the trip we were informed that the road connecting Sana’a to Houdada (which we needed to use to get to Zabeed)was closed due to a landslide. The driver found an alternate route, but it added 2 and a half hours to the time… So the main focus was to get to Zabeed before it got dark. Houdada and Zabeed are on a coastal plain (on the Red Sea) to the west of the capital. As you come out of the mountains and down onto the plain, the tempature shoots up and it gets really humid. The scenery reminds me of pictures that I have seen of Kenya, short, sunburned grass and trees dotting the plain. The locals use grass huts just like they do in Africa. Unfortunetly, because of our time crunch and a minor dust storm, we didn’t stop to take pictures. I did manage to take some at a gas station, but I don’t think that they’ll turn out so good.
We did manage to get to Zabeed before the sun set and had just enough time to hurry around and snap some pictures. It’s a lovely village. It used to be a transit point for the coffee trade between Houdada and mocha (yes, that is one of the reasons coffee is called mocha) so it used to be pretty wealthy. The houses are big, but they only have one or two rooms (excluding the bathroom) as opposed to the usual big house=lots of rooms. The houses tend to be highly decorated as well, both inside and out.
There are several very old mosques there, one dates back to the time of Mohammed. Like most mosques in Yemen, it was rather plain, unlike any others in Yemen, I could go into this one! That was nice. Interestingly, both inside this mosque and on many houses, there were many “stars of David.” Our guide was guessing they were for honoring the prophet David. All of the Jewish big figures and prophets are also prophets in Islam. There is another mosque that is known for revering important muslim women, and there is also a mosque that is being restored by UNESCO. It is known as the most ornate and elaborate of the mosques in Yemen. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t see it, but I will next time!
The highlight of the trip was stumbling across a “woman’s handcraft” center. They did lots of needlework, sewing, and basket weaving (not very good baskets though). For me, the best was the weaving. They have 8 or so looms in the back and they make various things. I bought three items. I wouldn’t call them masters of the craft, but it is really nice finding things that are actually made here as souvenirs (more about the economics of why there isn’t much here later). Everything is part time for the women, they all have the regular duties to perform (kids, cooking, carrying water, etc.) so each item take a couple of weeks to make. I’ll see if I can post some pictures of my things… I did take some pictures in the weaving room, and I was even given permission to take a picture of a woman at a loom!
We went back to the hotel and I was a little surprised. It had 5 rooms, but there were 18-20 “beds” out in the open with just a woven roof over them. Michael explained that most people sleep outside since it is cooler. It had been around 90 degrees but close to 100% humidity, so we were all sweating quite a bit. A cooler bed sounded good to me, but after some thought, I decided on the hotter room. Looking around, I realized that if I slept outside I would be with 5 or 6 guys including the guy who runs the place. That always means extra noise… I had noticed more than a few feral cats roaming around and I thought that it was a pretty safe bet that they spent part of the day in those beds, along with their fleas. Plus, I was getting really tired and the owner was watching TV… So I figured I would try the room. It was indeed hot and I was sleeping with all of my clothes on. The window was allowing my only air input (and the fan was going like mad) but it also allowed anyone to look in. With that sort of heat, I don’t really care who sees me in my underwear, but in a conservative muslim country you don’t want to offend anyone… I did at least take my shirt off for most of the night. I figure that I got about 3 hours of sleep, but that’s better than the guys outside! Michael told me that it was difficult getting comfortable out there, but just as he was about to fall asleep, the owner turned the TV back on, at 3AM! He thinks he got about an hour of sleep…
Well the next morning we left before the sun came up in order to get to the fish while it was still hopping. I had ben dreaming of drinking cool water all night and I was parched when we started out. It turns out I had to wait about an hour because nothing was open! This is despite the fact that the morning prayers had already taken place and most people try to get out into the fields before the sun comes up while it’s cool. Not a damn thing was open. I was afraid that i might suffer heatstroke if I had to stand in the heat like the day before without any water! Luckily we found a place right outside of the fish souk.
The fish souk was the entire reason for the trip and none of us had gotten any appreciable amount of sleep so we were all really grumpy. It turns out that because of high winds, most boats couldn’t go out or could only go out for a limited time, so there were very few fish. We all agreed to pack it in and go back home. Houdada is a port city and there really isn’t much to see there…
So I’ve had about 5 hours of sleep over the past two days and I’m a little weird right now. I do plan on going back to Zabeed to see the things I missed this last time. I also plan on taking more pictures on the way out. With any luck, the women will keep weaving and I’ll have something else to buy too! I’ll try to post the few pictures I did take over the next few days, think I’ll get some sleep tonight…